In June, every year, my dad goes on a fishing trip and my mom and I go out for a nice dinner to celebrate Father’s Day and let him pay for it. It’s a tradition that we’ve tried to maintain, even after I’ve gotten married and moved out. This year was no different, and we were excited to try a new local place that we’d heard a little bit about… Sofra Bar and Grill.
After browsing Yelp’s photos and other reviews, my mom and I both had high expectations. However, sadly, these expectations were met with disappointment. Sofra is located in a small strip mall, had decent parking, and didn’t look like much from the outside. The bar area’s storefront opened up to the parking lot, and we had the privilege of hearing a drunken woman screaming at her date about politics as we entered and were seated. Inside there was a strange decor, but nice enough. I was happy to see that the restaurant’s management eventually did approach the woman, who had begun screaming, “I’m a woman! Why don’t you light me on fire, too?!” and asked her to lower her voice. To give her some credit, she claimed she had “no idea,” anyone else was in the restaurant and hobbled over to slur an apology to us, which we graciously accepted. The management also turned CNN off and switched to the Food Network… good idea.
Ok, so on to the actual dining experience…
To drink, first, I was in the mood for a martini and asked the waiter if they had Hendrick’s Gin. He had to go find out (that’s ok, they’re still new) and returned to tell me their only gin option was Tanqueray. This didn’t thrill me, but I put my snobbiness aside and ordered my dirty martini. It arrived tasting fine, but I was alarmed to find some kind of greenish booger-consistency floater in it. I forced myself to believe it had something to do with the olive brine (God, please let this be true), picked it out, and continued to sip the drink. I hate being the bitch who complains about everything or sends things back.
I didn’t photograph the menu, but I found it a little disappointing… It was broken into sections (appetizers, salads, pastas, and entrees) and offered a few standard and overly popular choices for each. There were a few specials, but they honestly didn’t seem very special to me. The lobster ravioli sounded good but I wanted something a little lighter. They had a “Seafood Tower,” in the appetizer section, and I asked if I could have just a dozen oysters instead of the whole tower, which they happily accommodated. My mom went with the beet carpaccio and burrata.
The appetizers arrived and this is where the meal took a turn for the worst. Again, I really really don’t like being a bitch. And I don’t think I’ve ever sent a dish back before. But the oysters were absolutely inedible. I tried to get through them, and ate three, but I literally started gagging. First of all, they were not fresh. I just basically did an oyster tour through Charleston and I know a fresh oyster; this was disgraceful. Secondly, when they arrived, I was excited to see that they were each full of what I thought was that glorious delicious “oyster liquor.” However it turned out to be dishwater. I think that, instead of shucking these correctly, minimizing sand and grit, and maintaining all of the natural juices, that the kitchen opened them incorrectly, rinsed the oysters themselves and shells off to eliminate the grit, and placed them back in the shell with plain water. It was disgusting. Lastly, they didn’t come with a mignonette, which is my favorite accompaniment with oysters. The waiter came to check on us, and for the first time ever, I sent them back, telling him, “They just don’t taste right.” He took them away without question, thankfully. The other appetizers (the beet carpaccio and burrata) were perfectly average. The burrata was served with some tomatoes and balsamic drizzle – boring. And the beets were served with blue cheese and figs – also boring. Thankfully, they were edible, and I helped my mom pick on these instead of eating the potentially food poisonous oysters.
For entrees, my mom got the braised short ribs and I did the grilled octopus and fried shrimp.
One saving grace: the braised short rib was quite delicious. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the sauce was full of deep rich flavor. They were served with truffle mashed potatoes that were tasty, too, especially with some of the extra sauce.
My dish didn’t go so well. In order from best to worst: The shrimp was fine – nicely battered and fried, served with a perfectly average tartar sauce. The octopus was… eh. It was cooked well enough in that it was nice and tender, but it was completely unseasoned. I sprinkled salt on to liven it up but it was just plain bland. But then… the green beans the octopus was served on. I was already alarmed by the poor quality of the oysters, but the taste of the string beans actually made me stop eating from the dish. They tasted like a combination of feet, mildew, and mold. I wasn’t sure if I was being unfairly critical, and began doubting my own tastebuds. My mom, terrified of octopus, was reluctant to taste the green beans, as “they touched the octopus.” But I was able to convince her for the sake of the Baconboozer blog and my credibility… I needed someone to fact check my opinion. And she confirmed, there was definitely something wrong there.
At some point during the entrees, a gentleman (I assume an owner or manager) came over to our table asking, “Who doesn’t like my oysters?!” Let me be clear, he was friendly and extremely hospitable, but also somewhat condescending. True, he didn’t know he was dealing with Baconboozer, an oyster fanatic, but he should assume that every guest knows about good food. He told me, “Oh, you know I went back into the kitchen and tasted one. They’re very good. These are something called Blue Point Oysters…” Thanks for the lesson, dude, but they were shit. I explained that I felt like they had been rinsed and he then taught me that, “Sometimes, oysters get sand or broken shell in them, so they need to be cleaned.” I just said “Oh, I see,” but was really thinking, “You fucking idiot…” At the end of the exchange, he did say, “No big deal, if you don’t like them it doesn’t matter why, we just want everyone to be happy,” which I appreciated. He also sent out some after dinner drinks which helped to rectify the situation, too.
For dessert we got a red velvet cake, a strawberry pound cake, an espresso and a cappuccino.
Both desserts lacked excitement. The red velvet cake was fine, but the frosting had no cream cheese flavor whatsoever, and that’s my favorite part of red velvet cake so it was disappointing. The strawberry pound cake wasn’t what we were expecting and came in a glass drizzled with chocolate and some tasty liquor… it was good but just not outstanding. The espresso and cappuccinos were good, and I thought the espresso cup was pretty cool, possibly my favorite part of the meal.
Overall, I just felt shitty after this meal. I had really wanted to like this place, and I was looking forward to having a new favorite local spot. But the mistakes were just too grave to get past… not fresh and improperly shucked oysters were a major offender, and the extremely bad tasting green beans were unforgivable. I don’t think it’s beyond repair though. They’ve only been open for several weeks, so I want to give my suggestions and an opportunity to fix them:
- Train the entire kitchen on shucking and preparing oysters properly. If you’re going to have a raw bar, make it a great one.
- Maintain quality control in the kitchen and pantry, freshness of all ingredients is non-negotiable.
- Expand your bar offerings to have a few options for each spirit. Maintain quality control behind the bar, too (no booger consistency ingredients allowed).
- I’m not a big proponent of, “The customer is always right,” because some customers are definitely very stupid and can most certainly be wrong. But do not dismiss a guest’s complaint or criticism. And definitely do not attempt to provide an education to someone on food preparation when you don’t know that person’s background. I appreciate the manager/owner taking the time to visit our table, send us drinks, and take the oysters off of our bill, but his lesson on how oysters are prepared was not only wrong (making him sound stupid), but was condescending to me. It made me feel awkward that I knew more than him and had to keep my mouth shut so as to not insult his intelligence.
- Continue to train your wait staff on the menu and bar – we asked several questions that our waiter had to go find out. It’s a learning curve, and this will definitely improve with time, as with any new restaurant.
- Put a few things on the menu that push the envelope. You’re not going to make it in this extremely competitive industry without having a few things that really make you stand out.
Jason and I will be in at some point in the summer to see how you’re doing – maybe this was just a very off night. Until then, you’ve earned a two star Baconboozer rating. Your valiant attempt at hospitality is the only reason I’m willing to give a second chance.